'Israel won't be our focus'

Arab officials deny plans to turn Israel into issue at nuke summit.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. AP 311 (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. AP 311
(photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Some key Muslim states attending US President Barack Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, which began Monday, do not intend to focus on Israel’s alleged nuclear capabilities at the conference, despite Israeli concerns to the contrary.
The US administration has indicated it hoped the conference would focus on the issue of preventing nuclear materials from ending up in the hands of terrorists. But Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu canceled his participation in the meeting at the last minute, with government sources citing fears that Muslim countries would turn Israel into the issue at the conference if he attended.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have been cited as the countries most likely to demand at the conference that Israel sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Related:Ukraine to dispose of its uranium
But one high-level Arab official involved with the negotiations surrounding the summit said that,“Egypt has no intention of making an issue of Israel’s nuclear capabilities at the security summit."
The written statement the Egyptians will be submitting for the record on Tuesday is understood to focus on the stated summit topic of nuclear security.
"Egypt does not see it as the proper venue, and is adhering to the focus of the summit, which is nuclear security, and it’s making a distinction between that and the issues related to the Non-Proliferation Treaty," the official involved with the negotiations told The Jerusalem Post.
The administration has not reached out to Arab countries such as Egypt and Jordan to ensure they didn’t raise the subject because it had never been on their agenda, other Arab officials said.
Israel’s non-adherence to the NPT, the high-level official said, would be raised at a UN conference on the treaty in May. He said “it was quite surprising” for Netanyahu to “raise this as a pretext for not attending the summit.”
“It’s quite surprising because, quite frankly, it’s not true,” he said.
The Arab denials that they ever intended to focus on Israel has fueled speculation that the true reason Netanyahu did not want to travel to Washington had to do with the tension between Israel and the US over the diplomatic process. A source in the Prime Minister’s Office denied this, saying that when Netanyahu had planned to attend the conference, he did not have any meetings scheduled with Obama or any other senior administration official.
While Arab officials have said they will not shine the spotlight on Israel, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday before leaving Turkey for the conference that he would raise the issue and call for pressure on Israel.
“I will call on the international community, which is so sensitive toward Iran, to pay attention to Israel, too,” Erdogan was quoted in the Turkish press Sunday as saying.
“We don’t desire any nuclear proliferation in our region, and our policy is well-known, regardless of which country has such programs,” Erdogan told reporters. “For us, it doesn’t matter whether it is Israel or Iran.”
Erdogan’s comments came two days after Turkey’s ambassador to Washington, Namik Tan, who was formerly Ankara’s envoy to Jerusalem, said Turkey had no plans to raise concerns about Israel’s nuclear program at the summit.
“We don’t have any such thing in our agenda,” Tan said.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York before heading to the conference in Washington that “there are still many unresolved, very delicate issues which we must address” at the summit, and later next month at NPT meetings at the UN. In Washington, he said he planned to urge all UN member states to sign the NPT treaty.
Asked specifically about Israel, Ban said: “All the member states who have not done so should participate in the NPT treaty. That is an obligation of all member states of the UN. Likewise, I’m going to urge in Washington that all the countries that have not signed and ratified the nuclear test ban treaty should also do so without further delay.”
Ban described a so-far-unsuccessful initiative to establish a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.
“That has not achieved any progress until now, for various reasons, including the political situation on the Middle East peace process,” Ban said. But he was skeptical much progress would be made this week.
“I’m not quite sure how much progress they will be able to make during this summit meeting,” he said.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy Dan Meridor arrived Monday in Washington to participate in the summit in Netanyahu’s stead. He was accompanied by officials from the National Security Council, Foreign Ministry and Israel Atomic Energy Commission. As the head of Israel’s team, Meridor will participate in a dinner for the delegates to the summit hosted by Obama.
Meridor will join presidents, prime ministers and other leaders from 47 countries at the meeting, the objective of which is to ensure that nuclear weapons are kept out of terrorist hands through the securing of nuclear materials from theft or diversion within four years.
On the eve of what would be the largest assembly of world leaders hosted by an American president since 1945 – the year of the San Francisco conference to found the United Nations – Obama said nuclear materials in the hands of al-Qaida or another terrorist group “could change the security landscape in this country and around the world for years to come.”
Ahead of the conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear that she, too, saw dirty bombs in terrorist hands as an even larger threat than regular nuclear weapons.
Merkel said Monday that such weapons “must not under any circumstances” fall into the hands of terror groups such as al-Qaida.
“We believe that the IAEA must be strengthened, we are ready to pledge additional finances to make this happen,” Merkel said of the nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency.
Merkel praised Obama’s decision to hold the conference as “extremely important,” and said it fit well with Obama’s global disarmament efforts.
Meanwhile, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said in an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America on Monday that Iran’s nuclear program must be watched closely, and that sanctions on the regime would have to be smart and effective because sanctions often didn’t work.
“They should not lead to humanitarian catastrophe, where the whole Iranian community would start to hate the whole world,” the Russian president said.
He added that there was no global consensus for sanctions on Iran’s petroleum industry. Netanyahu has been vocal in calling for biting sanctions against Iran’s energy sector.
Medvedev said that an Israeli military strike against Iran would be a “global catastrophe.” The conflict could escalate into a nuclear one, and in any case, in the populous Middle East, it would be a disaster leading to a stream of refugees into Russia’s sphere of influence, the Russian president added.
Medvedev said Israeli military action “would be the worst possible scenario if a conflict of that kind happens.”
“What does a war in the Middle East mean? Everyone is so close overthere that nobody would be unaffected,” he said. “And if conflict ofthat kind happens, and a strike is performed, then you can expectanything, including use of nuclear weapons. And nuclear strikes in theMiddle East, this means a global catastrophe. Many deaths.”
InSeptember, Medvedev gave an interview in which he confirmed a secretvisit to by Netanyahu to Moscow and said he had received assurancesIsrael would not strike. Asked if he was as certain now, he said he hadgood relationships with both President Shimon Peres and Netanyahu, butadded that “those are independent people. And I would say that on manyquestions they are defending stubborn positions. Very tough. And the UShas seen the proof of that lately.”
Asked if he was referring tothe issue of settlements, he said that “in many instances the Israeliposition, including settlements, remained the same even after open andhonest talk with America, and we have spoken to them also.”
E.B. Solomont and AP contributed to this story.